Saturday, September 27, 2014

The General Slocum disaster, a German-American disaster

I have attended more than one presentation about the disaster that befell the passenger steamship General Slocum on 15 June 1904.  The story of the loss of the steamboat and more than 1000 of its passengers is one that many of us have encountered.  But how many are aware that the disaster involved primarily the members of  St. Mark German Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 223 Sixth Ave. in lower Manhattan?  It was one of many German churches to be found at the time in the German section of Manhattan known as Kleindeutschland.

The Slocum had been chartered for $350 by Pastor George C. F. Haas. When it left its Manhattan dock on Third St. at 9 A.M., it carried 1358 passengers plus crew.  Most of the passengers were women and children from St. Mark Church.  Only 10% of the passengers were men. It was bound for a midweek church picnic at Locust Point, on the north shore of Long Island.  Shortly after leaving the dock, fire broke out. By the time Captain William Henry Van Schaick made the first announcement of the fire, passengers were already beginning to panic.  Many passengers were unable to swim, and the life vests and other safety equipment was found to be useless.  The fire trapped people where they had fled for safety, and many were forced to jump into the East River, where they drowned.

For some reason, Captain Van Schaick ordered the boat to continue on to North Brother Island before making for land.  It was a decision that probably added many to the casualties.  When the toll was taken, there were only 321 survivors.  Over 1000, including Pastor Haas' wife and daughter, died in the fire, or the waters of the East River.

The fire aboard the General Slocum had a profound effect in the German community of Kleindeutschland.  The church community of St. Mark was devastated by the loss of so many of their church members, especially since the toll was high among the women and children of the church. The loss of so many lives had a disheartening effect on the German community in lower Manhattan in general.  Within the previous decade, many in the community had begun to move north in Manhattan to the newer upper east side German community of Yorkville.  The Slocum disaster caused many to leave behind the sad memories by moving out of Kleindeutschland and north.


Karen T. Lamberton, Angels in the Gate: New York City and the General Slocum Disaster, (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2006).

Edward T. O'Donnell, Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum, (Broadway Books, 2003).  The site contains a searchable list of dead and missing.  Where possible it lists the county where the death was recorded (Bronx for all I found), and the death certificate number.  Contains transcription of newspaper articles about the disaster and lists of dead and missing by address and surname.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ancestral Churches Project

Researching our ancestral families at some point will bring us back to a church that our ancestors called home for several generations.  In that church we find the records of baptisms, marriages and burials that enable us to link together the generations.  However the attachment to an ancestral church goes beyond the records that can be found in that church.  There is also a bond with church because it was the church of our ancestors.

The Palatines to America web-site,  began a project last fall that is meant to provide information on the churches our German ancestors attended, both those in Europe as well as those.  Information about several churches has already been posted on the web-site.  The information on the site has pictures and more extensive narrative, but here I can only give a listing and brief details.  The following churches are online.

New Hanover Lutheran Church (2941 Lutheran Rd, Gilbertsville, PA 19525):  The congregation was established around 1700 and is claimed to be the first German Lutheran Church in America.

St Paul’s Dutch Reformed Church is also known as the Mannheim Reformed Church or Snell’s Bush Church, Mannheim, New York.  The first church was built around the time of the American Revolution.

Fort Herkimer Church (German Flats, Herkimer County, New York):  The first church was built of logs in 1725 by the Palatines who lived in the area.  A more substantial structure was erected in the years from 1751 to 1753.

Stone Arabia Reformed Church, (near Nelliston, Montgomery County, New York):  The church was constructed sometime prior to 1743, since the first church book that is in existence was dated October 1742.

St. Servatius ev-lutheran Kirche, (Duderstadt, Eichfeld, Niedersachsen):  The oldest part of the current church is dated from around 1370, while the tower was constructed in the first half of the 16th century. 

(The Field Chapel) Flurskapelle,  (Ulmet, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany):  The first church at the site was probably built in 1091.  It was destroyed during the 30 year war. The current church was rebuilt in 1737.

St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church, (323-327 Sixth St., New York):  The building was the home of a German speaking Lutheran community in what was at the time Manhattan’s Kleindeutschland (Little Germany).  The congregation was devastated in 1904 when the General Slocum sank in the East River with many of the congregation aboard for a church picnic on Long Island.  The building now houses a synagogue.

If you have an ancestral church and can provide a picture and some information about that church, you are invited to add your ancestral church to those already published.  Send your information to

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Germanna at NGS

When I looked through the program for the NGS conference in Richmond,  I noticed a talk entitled "300 Years in Virginia:The Germanna Colony and Their Legacy".  I put it on my schedule of sessions to attend.  In the meanwhile, I found that the Germanna Foundation had a table at the conference.  I spent some time talking to those manning the booth to learn more about Germanna. On Thursday, I attended an excellent talk by Katherine Lowe Brown about Germanna.

She related how Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Spotswood arranged to recruit men from the region of Siegen, Westphalia.  Spotswood was interested in mining for silver in Virginia and hoped to recruit miners from Siegen.  In 1714, a group of forty-two miners and their families arrived in Virginia.  The miners were put to work by Spotswood.  This first colony at Germanna were German Reformed and brought their own minister with them.  When Spotswood's mining venture failed, these families resettled on the Northern Neck, which was later to become Farquier County.

A second, larger group of settlers from Wuertemburg, were Lutherans. They formed a congregation while they awaited passage in London, and arrived in Germanna in 1717.  Most later migrated to Culpeper County.

However, that was not the end of my "Germanna experience".  While wandering the vendors' hall, I found that "German Life" was giving away copies of the June/July 2014 issue.  In there, I found an article, "Silver on the Rapidan?  Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Spotswoood and the Founding of Germanna, 1713-1718" by Robert A. Selig.  The article provided more of the backstory of Spotswood and the Germanna settlement, including some of his questionable land deals by which he obtained possession of the land for Germanna.

Even that wasn't the end of my exposure to things "Germanna".  A book caught my eye as I wandered through Mia's Books, one of the few book vendors.  The book was entitled "The Germans in Colonial Times", by Lucy Forney Bittinger.  It was copyrighted in 1901, and reprinted in 2007 by Heritage Books. The author attempted to provide the story of German settlement in the colonies from 1683 to 1783.  It will take a more thorough reading to see how accurate a story the author tells about those early German settlements in Virginia.  However, I consider it my good fortune to find and purchase the book.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Blogging from the NGS Conference in Richmond

While awaiting the opening of the National Genealogical Society’s conference in Richmond, VA, I have gone through the schedule to decide which of the many talks I will attend.  Each time slot offers nine or ten presentations.  Of course, since the conference is being held in Virginia, many deal with topics related to research in that state.

What I found interesting was the number of topics of interest to those researching German ancestors. Beginning on Thursday morning, the following talks on German topics will be offered.

“Searching for a Pennsylvania German Ancestor” - James M. Beidler
“300 Years in Virginia: The Germanna Colonies and Their Legacy” – Katherine Lowe Brown
“Researching a Hessian Soldier in the American Revolution” – Craig Roberts Scott
“How to Overcome Brick Wall Problems in Pennsylvania German Research” – Michael D. Lacopo
“Contrasting German Migrations: 18th Century vs. 19th Century Waves” – James M. Beidler
“How German History Makes a Difference in Your Family History Research” – F. Warren Bittner
“German Gazetteers and Levels of Jurisdiction” – F. Warren Bittner
“Using Historic German Newspapers Online” – Ernest Thode
“German Village Not Yet Found?” – Carolyn Louise Whitton
“German 301: Going Beyond German Church Records” – James Marion Baker

Of course, unless you are going to be at the conference, it will be impossible for you to actually attend these presentations.  However, all is not lost.  Each of these talks is being recorded by a company called JAMB.  After the conference is over, the sessions that have been recorded, including the ones listed above, will be offered on the website  Each tape is currently $12.00.  Considering the cost of actually attending the conference, the price of a tape is cheap.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Rochester Churches Indexing Project

The Summer 2013 issue of The New York Researcher, the NYG&B quarterly newsmagazine, published an article about the Rochester Churches Indexing Project.  Since 2009, a group of volunteers has been indexing Rochester area church records of marriages and baptisms.  At the time the article was written, the marriages for thirty three churches, many, but not all of them Roman Catholic, had been indexed. There were 29,129 marriages in the index.  There was also 14,751 baptisms indexed from some of those churches.
Since the Rochester area has had a large German population, these records should be of interest to anyone researching oGerman ancestors who settled in, or moved through the Rochester area.  Several of the churches that have been indexed have records that began in the early to mid-thirties.   During that time period, the availability of land from the Holland Land Company and the opening of the Erie Canal drew many into the area.  Even if they did not remain in the western part of New York, they may have been there long enough for a marriage or baptism.

A check on the website of the project recently showed that the work has continued.  There are now 34 churches included in the project.  The number of indexed marriages has grown to 29,742.  The number of baptisms indexed has almost doubled to 28,794.

Many of the records have been indexed from microfilms.  If a marriage or baptism is found that is of interest, the microfilm can be ordered from that source to look for further information.  However the information in the index itself contains more than just names and dates.  For marriages, besides the names of the bride and groom, the names of witnesses, sometimes parents and places of origin are given in the index.  The same is true for baptisms.

If you have ancestors who may have been in the Rochester area long enough to generate marriage or baptismal records, you may find just what you are looking for. They can be found online at  They can be reach by email at

 Keep in mind though that there may be errors in transcription, as in any secondary sources.  Check the original images on film if they exist, or write to the church where the record was generated to obtain a copy.